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Gold Rush History with Wass Molitor $50

A repaired Wass Molitor $50 graded AU Details by NGC will be on offer during Heritage’s Long Beach auction in October. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com.)

A repaired Wass Molitor $50 graded AU Details by NGC will be on offer during Heritage’s Long Beach auction in October. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com.)

Heritage Auctions will be offering a valuable piece of numismatic and Gold Rush history in its Oct. 7-10 Long Beach Expo U.S. Coins Signature Auction: an 1855 Wass Molitor $50 coin.

Like many successful business people in the mid- and late 1800s, some of the makers of territorial gold coins were immigrants to the newly opened American West. Samuel Wass and Agoston Molitor were fugitives from the Hungarian independence movement, trained in the metallurgical arts in Germany and their native Hungary.

In 1852, they began producing their first gold coinage on the Western frontier. Many of the “weak sisters” of California gold coinage – the Dubosqs, Schultzes, Dunbars and Baldwins – had, either rightly or wrongly, been forced out of business by 1851 when their products were exposed as a little or a lot lightweight, whether through larceny, laxness or lack of proper technique and equipment.

Wass and Molitor’s original 1852 production consisted of the expected coins: $5 and $10 pieces, those most urgently needed for everyday commerce. Since the coins were of full weight and fineness, they were, with the Moffat and Humbert-Assay Office pieces, among those that circulated without difficulty.

Wass Molitor issued no coins at all dated 1853 or 1854, but 1855’s production, besides $10s and $20s, included a curious throwback. The 1855 $50 pieces, while round rather than octagonal, hearkened back to the 1851-1852 Humbert-U.S. Assay Office $50 octagonal slugs, a cumbersome denomination that dominated the channels of ordinary commerce. The slugs were too large for ordinary purchases, and making change for one was a nightmare. Nonetheless, the round Wass Molitor coins were an improvement over the octagonal pieces. The round $50s saw wide acceptance, and most circulated extensively.

Due to their popularity in circulation and their hefty gold content, these coins were either melted over time or survived in fairly low grades overall. Finding one in high grades – or at all – is a big deal today.

The Heritage Long Beach sale offering is graded AU Details by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. This coin was repaired at some point in the past, but its historic importance and significant remaining detail still makes it desirable to collectors.

For more details on this coin and others in the October auction, visit coins.HA.com.